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Pride Went Before This Fall

June wedding bells for Dems and gay voters

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Pittsburgh-born Eric Stern may have already set a record for the most gay-pride events attended in one year. Stern -- director of the Democratic National Committee's Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Outreach -- appeared (or recruited 1,100 volunteers to man tables) at 55 pride events in 22 states, including Pittsburgh and six other Pennsylvania cities, getting the word out about GLBT-friendly presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.

 

The Dems' Web site has pages devoted to GLBT-community issues, complete with Kerry's "pride proclamation," a comparison of Dem and Republican stances on issues central to gay voters, and information on President George W. Bush's proposal for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

 

The Republican National Committee Web site doesn't contain a single reference to "GLBT" or its variants. Its 31 mentions of the word "gay" lead a visitor to pages decrying the pro-gay stance of Kerry or other Democrats, or pages praising Bush's amendment.

 

That the RNC has apparently given up on the gay voter is puzzling in light of exit polling at the 2000 election, which showed that nearly a quarter of 4.1 million self-described gay voters picked the Bush-Cheney ticket over Gore-Lieberman.

 

"President Bush campaigned as a compassionate conservative," says Stern. "He met with a couple of prominent gay and lesbian activists and didn't explicitly during the presidential debates say anything homophobic. I think a lot of gay and lesbian Republicans were fooled by his rhetoric. He's insulted us. He's insulted our families. He's used the bully pulpit to encourage violence and hate against us and for that he should be ashamed of himself. He's proven that he's willing to sacrifice gay and lesbian families to get elected."

 

Actively seeking the GLBT vote for John Kerry was Stern's idea. Pittsburgh, he says, is one of the most important urban centers in this election, and Pennsylvania's and Florida's gay voters drew the Dems' attention most. A Kerry victory, he believes, would be "historic. The gay community and our allies will have proved that using homophobia to win votes no longer works in this country."

 

Stern believes Kerry will deliver what Bill Clinton promised. "I think the community really took to Bill Clinton because he was the first president who opened the doors to the gay community and even said the word gay in his speeches," Stern says. Clinton also appointed gays to leadership positions, including his cabinet, and at least created "an atmosphere of tolerance. That's an intangible that a lot of people forget. Before, we were invisible" -- at least in mainstream politics.

 

"Senator Kerry actually has a better record on gay and lesbian issues," he continues. "Kerry was one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. He called it gay-bashing." Clinton, of course, signed this federal law defining marriage in heterosexual terms in 1996. Stern also points to gay officials on Kerry's campaign team, and to his early support of helps for people with HIV/AIDS. "Senator Kerry testified against the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy before the Armed Services Committee," which still gets gays booted from the military.

 

"We're talking about the most pro-gay presidential candidate in the history of the United States," Stern concludes.

 

The issue of gay marriage, of course, could overshadow all of the above during the 2004 election. "Our civil rights are on the ballot all across the country," Stern says. "We realize this is the election of our lives."

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